Issac Bailey

Four-decade long fight to improve small Myrtle Beach area community continues

Seven-year-old Ja’zyna Dewitt (left) enjoys the final minutes of the Racepath after school program on Thursday with 6-year-old Amani Riggins.
Seven-year-old Ja’zyna Dewitt (left) enjoys the final minutes of the Racepath after school program on Thursday with 6-year-old Amani Riggins. Issac J. Bailey/The Sun News

The headlines come and go.

Bikefest in Myrtle Beach ends in chaos

North Charleston police officer shoots unarmed man in back

Protests erupt over claims of unequal treatment

But the Rev. William Gause in the Racepath community of Myrtle Beach just keeps chugging along, pushing for improvement and fighting against violence.

His has been in a steady, consistent kind of battle that has stretched over almost four decades, dealing with the kinds of emotional and structural issues that again have become news fodder and water cooler talk.

His fight began in earnest when drug dealers, upset at his attempts to improve Racepath, firebombed his home. Since then, he’s worked closely with Horry County police, Horry County Council members and a bevy of residents and organizations to improve his part of the world.

He wants to help other communities in Horry County, too, but noted that it was important for Racepath to reckon with its own challenges first, no matter how long that takes.

To that end, he hopes to take another big leap in the coming weeks and months — if he can garner enough support from throughout the Grand Strand.

The Racepath neighborhood coalition, which Gause heads, needs about $17,000 to buy a plot of land that could become the site of a new, upgraded community center. It is being sold for about $27,000. The group has already secured a pledge of $10,000 to help defray the cost.

The current center, provided by Horry County, is small and aging. It is a single-wide mobile home and a central location in Racepath for the activities Gause said are important to steer the neighborhood’s children in the right direction.

“It’s not just something we want; it’s something we need,” Gause said of the property. “We are trying to save our kids from the streets.”

Racepath is surrounded by Myrtle Beach just off U.S. 501 and Grissom Parkway. Its median family income is about $30,0000, or about $20,000 below the Horry County average, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

According to census data, more than three quarters of its families headed by single mothers live below the poverty line — even though almost half of those women have jobs.

Gause hosts after-school programs and a full-time, 5-day-a-week summer camp that provides two hot meals a day and educational and other activities in that mobile home of a community center to keep Racepath’s kids engaged and stimulated, and to allow their parents to work, most of whom have jobs that don’t pay enough to pay make child care affordable.

But housing a few dozen kids in such a small building has major drawbacks and limits what Gause and others can do.

“It’s tough,” Gause said. “You gotta step over [napping\ kids to get to the bathroom or kitchen sometimes. There are a lot of extra needs. But we are trying.”

A larger center would also let them accept more children into the programs and provide more activities.

The community coalition has been meeting and is planning fundraisers and work with the non-profit Phoenix Renaissance. Though its purpose is significant, its funding base is modest.

While others are wondering what to do about the recent disturbing headlines, a dedicated group of Racepath residents led by Gause continue their efforts to reduce the odds that such headlines will reflect what happens in their community.

Want to help?

For more information, contact Gause at w_gause@yahoo.com or at (843) 283-5631.

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